Building partnerships through research

Partnerships are at the heart of all great research projects, which is why the University of Northern British Columbia is proud to be the top University in its category for corporate research income growth.

By collaborating with industry, UNBC researchers are able to apply the discoveries they make to solve some of the biggest challenges companies face, while fostering collaboration with communities and engaging with the questions stakeholders are asking. This year, UNBC increased its corporate income growth by more than 177 per cent.

UNBC Environmental Science Professor Dr. Stephen Déry is the new NSERC/Rio Tinto Senior Industrial Research Chair.

One reason industry wants to collaborate with UNBC is our location. Northern British Columbia is where the natural resources industry intersects with Indigenous communities and resource-dependent districts.

“UNBC is ideally suited to partner with industry because our campuses are located at the hub of British Columbia’s resource sector,” says UNBC Vice-President of Research Dr. Geoffrey Payne. “Our researchers have spent years working closely with communities to understand their needs in the changing global economy and environment. Those discussions have led to meaningful relationships that help inform the research questions that will yield discoveries that will benefit everyone.”

One recent examples of a partnership in action is the new NSERC/Rio Tinto Senior Industrial Research Chair in Climate Change and Water Security.

Over the next five years, UNBC Environmental Science Professor Dr. Stephen Déry will study the impact climate change is having on the Nechako River watershed and what that means for Rio Tinto’s management of the river and the reservoir.

From its headwaters in the Coast Mountains to its mouth in Prince George, the Nechako River is a key artery through British Columbia’s interior plateau. Home to iconic species including the white sturgeon and an important stop for the migratory trumpeter swan, the river is also embraced by canoeists and anglers in the summer, and skiers and snowmobilers in the winter.

Rio Tinto manages the water levels in the Nechako Reservoir, which it uses to generate hydroelectricity for its smelter operations in Kitimat, B.C. At the same time, the reservoir also provides water for the Nechako River. An expanded program of research and monitoring in the Nechako River Basin remains a top priority for communities along the Nechako and Rio Tinto.

Rising temperatures associated with climate change are diminishing seasonal snowpacks and glaciers, which in turn influence the entire Nechako River watershed. Déry, an expert on climate variability and climate change, will use the new funding through the Industrial Research Chair collaboration to begin a new phase in his research.

“This five-year program of research builds on the capacity my research group has developed over the past 15 years and will make use of the latest technology and state-of-the-art numerical models in advancing our knowledge on the impacts of climate change on water security in the Nechako watershed,” says Déry. “It is important to collaborate with a private-sector partner such as Rio Tinto, with a view to seeing our research findings applied to help manage the environmental impacts of industrial activity.”

The research findings will be mutually beneficial. They will help Rio Tinto continue in its stewardship of the Nechako River Reservoir, they will inform local communities about the impact climate change is likely to have in their watershed and they will be part of the global conversation around the future of climate and our environment.

“Engaged Universities are ones that extend beyond the traditional “four walls” of the academy and elevate the value of the University through partnerships. Those partnerships, when built on strong relationships, focus on value-added outcomes for both the University and the partner. At UNBC, we have seen the importance of true partnerships as evidenced in our successes and they are integral not only to a research mission but also to our University’s mission.” says UNBC Vice-President of Research Dr. Geoffrey Payne.